Building Food Safety And Market Access Resilience in the Australian Seafood Industry
By Dr Cristina Lesseur and SafeFish
The rising volatility of local and global events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine and geopolitical challenges, have taught us how important it is to be prepared and ready to adapt. A program of work run by SafeFish and funded by the FRDC is designed specifically with this purpose in mind: to increase awareness of critical risks and build resilience for the Australian seafood industry.
SafeFish has begun to develop an actionable risk register (ARR) to help the Australian seafood sectors identify and manage their most relevant risks in an effective and proactive way. This process will occur throughout the remaining four years of the SafeFish project and is focused on the core areas of food safety and trade and market access. The program aims to build a simple, actionable framework and develop a set of tools that can serve as a compass for industry to navigate through uncertainty.
The initial phase of the program was to identify the top material risks at a national seafood level. This was achieved by gathering insights from industry stakeholders and key experts in research, regulations, food safety and key areas of concern such as crisis management, geopolitical (China) and general food industry practices. The participation was very well balanced between sectors and supply chain roles, allowing us to clearly understand the areas that needed attention and preparedness.
The results have been summarised in the form of a bullseye showcasing the top 32 risks, where the center identifies the most critical risks, and extends in layers through high and medium to lower risks (see Figure 1).
The five most critical risks found were:
- The challenges of managing Vibrio species in Australia. These have become more prevalent, virulent, tough to detect and very difficult to manage. New Zealand has recently been dealing with a vibrio outbreak that has affected many sectors beyond bivalves (finfish, crustaceans and gastropods), and is a pertinent reminder that this risk has the potential to impact the whole industry;
- Climate change impacts, relating to changes in the ecosystems, wider distribution of species, and increasing pathogens due to rising water temperatures, just to name a few;
- Geopolitical uncertainties for trade, like arbitrary trade sanctions or loss of products in exporting markets, for which we have seen many seafood examples (lobster, Coral Trout);
- Industry not adapting effectively to traceability and authenticity needs. This includes not moving to better and safer technologies, as well as the increasing incidence of food fraud in seafood; and
- The increase of harmful algae blooms with low awareness of emerging/existing biotoxins including Ciguatera.
All experts interviewed insisted on building preparedness broadly and boldly. They reinforced the importance of having proper processes and plans for managing incidents and anticipating geopolitical threats, including implementing business continuity plans, working closely with communities to have them tell your story, and working together to unify industry’s strengths. These additional layers for managing risks can help industry face bigger challenges related to sustainability, governance, regulatory changes and market dependencies.
The next steps of the risk register program will be to a) develop risk control plans and a champion-led team for Vibrio, which will build collective knowledge and actions for the whole industry; b) identify the top individual sector risks; and c) grow our toolset for managing existential, complex risks such as climate change.
By taking one step at a time, SafeFish is providing tools and support to improve the resilience of the Australian seafood industry and build a stronger, smarter risk culture throughout.
Figure 1- Top material food safety and trade and market access risks of the Australian seafood industry